Generation Z and the horcrux of online identities

I was born in Generation X: the post baby boom from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. We were taught to be consistent, honest, kind, selfless. We saw the thriftiness of the post-war generation in action and had “make do and mend” values modelled to us. We grew up with handmade clothes, presents as rare treats and communities with other grown-ups who would call us to account if we stepped out of line. We knew we had to follow a certain standard of behaviour otherwise it would be noticed, noted and reported back to our parents.

I mentored Generation Y: the children who grew up in a transient society, where feminist values were redefining the role of women, where career choices were expanding far past the traditional “Happy Families” set of jobs, and where something called the Internet was starting to connect people around the world. This generation were butterflies: they could shift their values, personalities and opinions to fit in amongst the peer group they happened to be in at the time. They had worked out a chameleon-like quality to help them blend in to an ever-changing world.

And as for generation Z? What about the identity of children born after the millennium? These are the first generation growing up with fast broadband connections and their own digital devices which give them the power to connect to anyone, anywhere. With this comes the freedom to invent an online persona without any real-life moderation or feedback. Children can be who they want to be and decide how they want to behave.

Generation Z also have chameleon-like tendencies, but this time, with the ability to create multiple online accounts, children can remix and restyle their core values and identities anonymously. So if children (and adults) split their personality into separate web presences, like Voldemort broke his soul into fragments, this brings a challenge: how to be a complete person offline with friends and in communities, bringing all the pieces back together and being comfortable with the whole individual that they make.

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